Latest Trade Figures Should Cool Talk of Getting Tough with China

The drums of a trade war with China are beating more loudly in Congress this week. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., is threatening to introduce a bill in the next two weeks that would raise tariffs on imports from China if it does not quickly appreciate the value of its currency, the yuan.

The argument behind the bill is that an artificially cheap yuan makes Chinese goods too attractive for struggling American consumers, to the disadvantage of certain U.S. companies that would prefer to charge us higher prices, while it stifles U.S. exports to China.

The latest monthly trade report, released yesterday by the U.S. Department of Commerce, should give pause to those who want to punish China for its currency policies.

In the first four months of 2010, compared to the same period in 2009, U.S. exports of goods and services to China were up 41 percent. That is twice the rate of growth of our exports to the rest of the world excluding China.

Meanwhile, imports from China were up 14 percent year-to-date, compared to a 25 percent increase in imports from the rest of the world. As a result, while our trade deficit with all other countries grew by 46 percent, from $78 billion to $114 billion, our trade deficit with China grew only 6 percent, from $67 billion to $71 billion.

A more flexible, market-driven yuan would be welcome, for all the reasons we’ve written about at the Center for Trade Policy Studies, but its current rate is not an excuse for raising trade barriers.